I'm making another outfit for my nephew, baby J.
My mum, his gran, has been knitting a a cardigan for him and she asked me to make a t-shirt and a pair of trousers so we could give him a complete outfit.
She picked the yarn a while ago. It's kind of lilac. Based on that, she first suggested I would make both trousers and t-shirt in beige.
I thought that would be just a bit... eh... So I came up with other suggestions and sent her swatches: dark blue jeans (the same thin jeans I've just used for myself) with unbleached cotton jersey or beige cotton twill with dark blue rib knit. I also threw in a scrap of dark blue an off-white striped cotton. She chose the stripe and the off-white jersey. I guess she really didn't want any dark colours for this outfit.
Which is a bit surprising for a woman who knit a dark blue wrap for her first-born (that would be yours truly) during her breaks at work despite the criticism of a co-worker. Oh well, opinions change over time.
I had traced patterns from Knippie magazine last month (from a book of last year's issues from the library. And yesterday, I cut them out. Now, I just need to sew both items before Saturday afternoon...
My mother's choice of yarn surprised me a bit. I don't know why she picked this colour. It doesn't exactly scream 'baby boy'... I would have gone for a brighter and/or stronger colour.
I don't think she has consulted my sister, J's mother either.
When I did so before sewing his coat-suit, she told me, and I quote: "Tough and beautiful colours look well on J, e.g. light or dark blue or green. Brown or grey can look nice as well. I think plain black and white would be boring but of course, these could work in a combination. Girly colours are, of course, not suitable for him".
He was eight months old at the time.
I didn't comment on it then but I was a bit surprised at the completely spontaneous gender stereotyping. In my opinion, no casual observer could possibly guess the gender of a child of that age if he/she were wearing his/her diaper. So I don't really buy into the theory that he would obviously look best in "real boy's" colours... Of course, the unisex look of any infant might be why a parent would want to show the gender through clothing.
Reading back, I was surprised again. This time at the fact that she only mentioned colours which would even be acceptable in rather conservative menswear. Even when steering clear from 'girly colours', there should be plenty of nice bright hues to choose from for a baby boy...
Of course, we were talking about a winter coat so that may have been a factor in her considerations.
I made a blue coat with red rib knit details and they were happy with it.
It still puzzles me though.
Looking at the young parents among my friends and family, it seems to be such a natural thing to show off the gender of children too young to have any notion of it. You'd almost think it was a general human tendency to do so.
Except that history-mad me knows that it isn't.
To start on the issue of colour, the 'pink for girls, blue for boys' rule which seems so normal now is, in fact, less than a century old. Here in the Netherlands, it came in after the Second World War, under the influence of American products and advertising. Before that, children's clothes weren't strictly colour-coded. And if anything, pink was for boys. This owed to old colour theories in which red was a real men's colour, symbolizing courage and strength while blue stood purity and tranquility. For children, lightened versions of colours were deemed appropriate, so pink for boys.
If you would like to read more about colour stereotypes, go this blog which I just found when researching pictures for this post.
And if you thought my remark about the unisex look of infants was a bit crazy, what would you say if I told you that for a long time, all children up to about three years of age were dressed the similarly. In skirts.
In this picture (this and the next are from late 19th century Harper's Bazar), all the non-standing children are just described as 'infants' without any distinction in gender.
When they got a bit older, differences between boys and girls were introduced gradually. The small child here is dressed in an "outfit for boys aged 2 to 5". So, he's in a skirt but the same outfit wouldn't be worn by a girl.
Actually, I've got an anecdote to back up the evidence of these engravings. It's a story my father told me: As a child, he would often visit his grandparents. In their house, there was an old picture of a small child in a dress with long hair in pin curls. He had remembered it all that time because it was a picture of his grandfather, whom he knew as large, impressive man.
I've never seen that particular picture (I wish more of those old family pictures were still around!) but it must have been taken around 1900.
And don't think the practice of dressing boys and girls alike ended in the dawn of the 20th century either. It may have done for a lot of people but in regional costume, it stuck around for longer.
These are boy's costumes from the Dutch village Marken, as on display in the Zuiderzee museum (I mentioned the old fishing villages on the IJsselmeer before, in this post).
Marken is one of the last places in the Netherlands in which traditional costumes are still worn and it likely that a lot of people will only still wear them for special occasions. Still, the boy looks perfectly comfortable in his skirt.
I read a lot about clothing and gender on sewing blogs, so the little issue of picking colours for baby J made me think more than it maybe should...
And yet, if we wonder why adults think in stereotypes, doesn't it all start young? I'm not a mother, so maybe it's easy for me to criticize.
What are your thoughts on colours and styles for small children? Are things there clear 'rules' for those where you live? And do you think parents should care about those?